In the latest and most high-profile example of travel companies using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to track visitors, Disney World parkgoers soon will be able to ditch paper tickets and credit cards in favor of wireless rubber wristbands that monitor where they go and what they spend in the Happiest Place on Earth.
According to The New York Times, the new "MyMagic+" program, rolling out over a still-to-be-determined time frame later this year, will let users of a new Web site and app called My Disney Experience preselect three FastPasses before they arrive at the Orlando park for rides or V.I.P. seating for parades, fireworks and character meet-and-greets. Theme park guests also can register for "MagicBands," bracelets that serve as room key, park ticket, FastPass and credit card.
Annual passholders, those staying at Walt Disney World Resort hotels and guests who buy a photography package will receive a band, writes Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs on the company's blog. Visitors who stay at non-Disney hotels "will receive a ticket with features of touch to enter the park, touch to redeem FastPass+ and touch to pay. These guests can participate in My Disney Experience and purchase a MagicBand if they wish," he adds.
"MagicBands can also be encoded with all sorts of personal details, allowing for more personalized interaction with Disney employees.," notes the Times. "Before, the employee playing Cinderella could say hello only in a general way. Now - if parents opt in - hidden sensors will read MagicBand data, providing information needed for a personalized greeting: 'Hi, Angie,' the character might say without prompting. 'I understand it's your birthday.'"
But, the paper adds, the wristband plan "moves Disney deeper into the hotly debated terrain of personal data collection" and "could be troublesome for a company that some consumers worry is already too controlling."
"Ensuring the security of our guest's information is obviously very important to us and no one is more focused on this than we are," Staggs writes on Disney's blog. "Everything is opt in and guests will have the opportunity to choose what information they share with us. Guests should also know that the band does not store personal information."
Radio-frequency identification aimed at travelers isn't new: A now-closed amusement center near Fort Lauderdale issued RFID wristbands that monitored customer movements in 2004, and Wisconsin-based water park operator Great Wolf Resorts has been using the technology since 2006.
RFID-enabled passes let skiers and snowboarders access resort lifts without fumbling through bulky parkas, while Vail Resorts' EpicMix program tracks guests' progress on the slopes and lets them share the results via social media. In Las Vegas, meanwhile, RFID chips embedded in high-value casino chips render the chips worthless if stolen.
But "when Disney makes a move, it moves the culture," Steve Brown of Lo-Q, a British company that provides line management and ticketing systems for theme parks and zoos, told the Times.
Readers, what do you think?
By Laura Bly, USA Today
USA Today / Gannett